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Distress thermometer

For many reasons, we know that it can be difficult for people to talk about their concerns with health care professionals. It’s often tempting for health care professionals to concentrate on physical symptoms and avoid talking about feelings and emotions.


A useful way of finding out about the concerns of people is to use a questionnaire called a Distress Thermometer. This has three parts.


Part 1 asks you to circle the number on the thermometer that best represents how much distress you’ve been in today and during the last week.

 Distress thermometer

The second part is a list of problems divided into 5 sections – practical, family, emotional, spiritual and physical. You tick each item that’s been a cause of distress for you during the last week including today.


Part 3 asks you to pick, out of the items you’ve ticked, the 3 that most concern you.


The link here will give you a printable version of the distress thermometer that is used by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This one adds 3 extra questions to help you focus your thoughts on what might help deal with the distress:

 What do you do to cope/feel better?

  • What help are you already getting?
  • What else might help?

Follow this link for a copy of the Distress Thermometer.

 DT Screen shot


Completing the distress thermometer before being seen by the doctor or nurse can help to focus the consultation on areas that are important for you. You may be given this whist waiting for your appointment or you can print this off and take it with you. It helps in the assessment of need as, for example, it’s easier to see whether the problems are practical or more emotional or physical. Knowing this can help to identify what can be done to help address the problems.


The Distress Thermometer tool has been used a lot in cancer patients as part of a holistic needs assessment and it is now being used more widely in hospitals and out patient clinics. 

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